About: Ilona Bray

Ilona Bray is a former attorney and the author of several Nolo immigration books. Her working background includes both solo immigration practice and working or volunteering as an immigration attorney with nonprofit organizations in Seattle and California.

Recent Posts by Ilona Bray

Sad That Summer’s Ending? At Least Home Burglaries Should Go Down!

BurglarI just came across an interesting report from the U.S. Department of Justice, indicating that the rate of home burglaries is significantly and consistently higher in summer than in the other three seasons of the year.

The report didn’t explain the reasons, but we can easily guess: Many homeowners take vacations during summer and leave their homes empty for days or weeks at a time; more people are typically out on the street during summer, providing cover for burglars hanging around to watch patterns of activity in the neighborhood; and, of course, no sensible burglar wants to, say, climb a ladder into a house during a rainstorm, or leave footprints in the snow.

Fortunately, Nolo has a number of helpful articles on how to protect your property from burglary, including:

You’ll especially want to read these if you’re planning any late-summer vacations! (Have a lovely trip.)

Immigrants Whipsawed by Ever-Changing U.S. Laws and Regulations

The series of legal and policy shifts that immigrants in the U.S. face is seemingly unending. Or maybe “seemingly” is too mild a word.

Try Googling the terms “immigrants whipsawed,” and you’ll find headlines both recent and ancient, all saying basically the same thing: Any immigrant trying to plan his or her life in the U.S. had best be prepared for delays, turnabouts, inconsistencies, and all-around frustration.

In the latest example of this phenomenon, F-1 students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), whom DHS previously found eligible for an extra 17 months of a work status called optional practical training (OPT), may not be able to receive those extra 17 months after all. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hadn’t followed proper procedures when it created the extension. Luckily for students, it gave DHS some extra months to redo the regulation, as described in Nolo’s update, “Extra 17 Months of Optional Practical Training for STEM Students in Jeopardy.”

Non-citizens who had successfully applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status weren’t so lucky. Many of them had received three-year work permits under President Obama’s latest Executive Order. However, a federal court decision blocking implementation of that order resulted in them having to actually mail their three-year work permits back to USCIS. (These were to be replaced with two-year work permits that USCIS would send out automatically – let’s hope that worked out.) What a bother, not to mention a source of confusion for both immigrants and their employers.

But these DACA recipients are still better off than the immigrants who were hoping to receive Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). This was (or perhaps is, after it wends its way through the court system) another program created by Executive Order. But it’s still on hold, ever since a federal district court in Texas granted a preliminary injunction against it.

How ironic that one of the 100 questions on the U.S. naturalization exam, which is given to prospective new U.S. citizens, is “What is the ‘rule of law?’” Acceptable answers include, “Everyone must follow the law,” “Leaders must obey the law,” “Government must obey the law,” and “No one is above the law.” Too bad no one seems able to decide what the law says, and stick to it for more than five minutes.

Dear Right-Wing Media: Stop Panicking, New Citizens Could Always Claim Conscientious Objector Status

saluteTo see the recent spate of articles, you’d think President Obama himself had just waved his hand and told all green card holders who are becoming naturalized U.S. citizens that they could skip that pesky part of the Oath of Allegiance where they promise to bear arms on behalf of the United States. Here are some of the recent headlines:

One has to wonder whether the pundits who write this nonsense get some sort of satisfaction from stirring up panic, because what they’re saying is simply not true. And I don’t mean “not true” in the sense that the issue is more nuanced than it first appears, or that with a little sympathy toward immigrants you’d see it another way, I mean NOT TRUE. At all.

I’ll try to keep this simple. Successful applicants for U.S. citizenship must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. That oath includes a statement that they’ll willingly bear arms on behalf of the U.S. if asked. For as many years as I’ve been practicing law, they’ve been allowed to request an exemption from the “bear arms” portion of the oath based on religious, ethical, or moral principles.

Notice I said request — USCIS could always deny it if the agency didn’t believe that the person really held said beliefs.

And the change? There really isn’t any. USCIS simply clarified, in a Policy Alert, that no, you don’t need to be a member of a particular religion to make this request, and no, you don’t have to prove said membership. No big deal — unless you’re someone who was worried that you’d be blocked from U.S. citizenship because your honest beliefs forbid you from taking up arms against your fellow man. In that case, you might be relieved to know that USCIS will give your request to take a modified oath serious consideration, though it might still deny it. (And you should also know that you cannot opt out of the portion of the oath in which you promise to perform noncombatant services on behalf of the U.S. if asked.)

I have no illusions that this humble blog will stop the tide of panic. Maybe Snopes will have better luck — the misunderstandings are so over the top that even this myth-debunking website felt the need to weigh in!

One last observation: The first article linked to above ended with the following statement: “It should be noted the Islamic terrorist Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, who killed four Marines and a Navy sailor in Chattanooga last week, was a naturalized citizen.”

It should be noted why, exactly? Is that little factoid supposed to make us more outraged that some new citizens won’t be joining our military and handed deadly weapons? With that level of suspicion about naturalized citizens, I would think saying yes to the ones who want to stay home and sit out any war would be a fine option.

New Fundraising Method? Check Collection Box for Rare Coins!

coinsCollecting a few pennies at a time doesn’t sound like the most effective way to raise money for charity.

But if you leave that coin donation box out long enough, the money will add up — and better yet, you might encounter some luck of the sort reportedly experienced by the Royal Berkshire Hospital recently.

A seemingly humble 2p piece in its coin donation box turned out to be a rarity (printed in silver rather than bronze, oops). A sharp-eyed volunteer noticed the oddity, and called an auction house. The coin ultimately sold for £802.03, a whopping 40,101 times its face value.

So there you have it; your fundraising lesson for the day. But actually, there are a few additional lessons to be learned from this story.

One is the value of volunteers, who bring fresh energy and knowledge into an organization. (Would a tired staffer emptying the box have noticed that a single coin in the pile was the wrong color?) See Nolo’s articles on “Volunteers and Your Nonprofit” for guidance on utilizing this resource.

Another is the value of publicity. I’ll bet the media outlets that reported on this weren’t tracking the auction house, but got word from the charity itself. And now you, I, and everyone reading the press coverage have heard of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. So if something similarly fun or interesting happens at your nonprofit, don’t be shy — call the press!

Selling While Still Living in Home? Cleanup Becomes a Family Affair

coffee cupAsk any real estate agent: Moving out of a house before trying to sell it is the optimal arrangement, both for aesthetic reasons (you can clean and even “stage” it) and for your own convenience during open houses and showings.

But that arrangement isn’t always possible. Particularly if you need to get the money out of your current house before moving on to a new one, you may need to juggle living in your home with presenting it as a commodity for sale.

That creates a challenge: How do you make your house look its best while you’re still having to cook, get ready for work every day, let the kids and pets play inside and outside, and so on?

It can be done. Dare we say, it should be done, because home buyers will be more interested, and therefore potentially pay more, for a house that looks like their dream future rather than like the aftermath of the tornado of everyday life. It’s no coincidence that one of the first things a home stager will recommend is to declutter. No matter what furniture, art, and elegant touches your home contains (or will contain, when the stager is done with it), all of that becomes irrelevant if buried under mounds of toys and dirty laundry.

So, let’s say you’ve cleaned your house, packed up the extras in prep for selling/moving, and perhaps even hired a stager to make it look fabulous. How do you maintain it day to day?

As real estate agent Leslie Sargent Eskildsen reminds us in her blog titled, “If you’re selling your home, you need to hide this ‘evidence’,” “you need to have a plan for handling normal, everyday occurrences.” And as she further explains, that often requires getting the whole family on board, and even assigning tasks.

With regard to pets, for instance, she says, “Who’s on back yard poop pick up? Who’s on kitty litter box rotation? Who’s cleaning the fish tank?”. By deciding on and handling such issues in advance, you’ll avoid last-minute panics when a real estate calls and says, “Can I bring my clients by in five minutes?”

There are, after all, many tasks that simply can’t be done with a mere few minutes’ warning. In fact, Leslie delivers some advice that might be hard for some to take: No garlic cooking in the kitchen until the house is sold. None. (But you can bake all the chocolate chip cookies you want, she says. I’ll be apple pie would pass muster, too.)

For more information on getting your home ready to attract buyers, see Selling Your House: Nolo’s Essential Guide.

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